When it comes to antiques and art, provenance and a solid attribution can be the difference between a good appraisal and a great one. Brad Kowetz of Belleville is lucky enough to know a lot of information about a Japanese sword he inherited from his father, who served in World War II. That makes him lucky on the first criteria; unfortunately, the maker of the sword was a little more problematic.

“My father was written up in World War II history books,” he wrote in an email to the column asking for more information and an appraisal. “When he was in the Navy he swam over to a Japanese ship that was disguised as a Red Cross ship, and after boarding the ship and seeing it wasn’t a Red Cross ship, he radioed back to the Navy ship with words ‘Mickey Finn,’ which informed the Navy ship the Japanese ship was a fake and they proceeded to capture the ship,” he explained.

Robert Kowetz later took a sword during the capture, a piece that the younger Kowetz inherited and still owns today. Unfortunately, condition is a bit questionable, as there is rust toward the end of the blade and the leather on the scabbard that slides over the handle is worn and torn. There are Japanese inscriptions at the base of the blade, but Kowetz had little or no idea what the words said.

Unfortunately, that proved to be a sticking point for appraiser Brian Thomczek, who examined the sword closely during a recent Trash or Treasure on-site appraisal session at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Centre of Troy. “There is a lot of interest in historic items revolving around the war, and in military items in general.”

The key to the big numbers, however, is deciphering the Japanese characters on the sword, which identifies the maker. “The lettering makes a big difference,” Thomczek told Kowetz. “This has real age to it, but decoding the lettering can sometimes be difficult if you don’t read Japanese or if the letters are scuffed and worn, often common issues in pieces with age.”

Thomczek did a bit more research after the appraisal session and asked a contact who specializes in World War II swords about the lettering. Unfortunately, the characters did not add up to a well-known sword maker, which would have driven the price up substantially. Between the condition issues and the lesser-known maker, Thomczek ultimately estimated the sword would bring between $800 and $1,200 at auction; more in a retail gallery.

In the end, however, the difference may not matter to Kowetz, who plans to keep the family heirloom in the family. “I’m obviously not trying to sell. ... It has great significance, given the war story behind it, but just wanted to know if the sword had any value and, if so, what.”

Thomczek said prices may continue to rise in the future. “World War II stuff is hot and only going up.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen, you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this object

Item: Japanese sword

Owner: Brad Kowetz, Belleville

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value: $800-$1,200 at auction

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